Earlier in the month, workers at the Starbucks at 29th and Willamette in Eugene filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union. This would be one of the first of its kind in Oregon and is in-line with efforts taking place in other parts of the country.
In 1971, Starbucks first opened in Seattle and, since its founding, the coffee company has grown from one location in the historic Pike Place Market into a worldwide company. Now, workers in Eugene say that they “want a seat at the table.”
In a show of support, the Eugene Springfield Solidarity Network hosted a rally at the coffee store on Jan. 27 and asked the community to show up to hear their stories. Eugene responded in kind as a crowd of at least one hundred—along with many members of the press—turned out for the event.
Starting at 11 a.m., the crowd gathered in front of the Starbucks to listen to a wide range of community speakers voice their support for the Starbucks baristas’ union.
Lonnie Douglas, a representative of the ESSN, was the first to address the crowd. The ESSN is composed of “grassroots activists, faith groups, unions, and student organizations” with a thirty year history of “advocating for economic and social justice.”
Douglas explained that they were there in support of the baristas forming a union and challenged Starbucks to stand in support of their employees as well.
Then he opened up the mic for other speakers, including those from the community, to come forward to voice their support.
Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger was the first to step forward but her words were quickly drowned-out by passing traffic honking their horns in solidarity. After the noise died down and some small technical issues with the bull horn were corrected Trieger proceeded.
Trieger said that she has had years of experience advocating for “worker protections and rights” fighting for things like fair pay, decent hours, and scheduling. She said that she is determined to make Oregon the number one “worker-safe state in the country.”
When it comes to those who oppose unions, Trieger said that “we hear the same arguments” which stem from “misconceptions” about individuals who work minimum wage jobs.
“People think it’s just high school students,” she said, but “those students are working to support their families” helping their parents pay rent, mortgages, utilities, and even “put food in the fridge.” But high school students aren’t the only ones working for minimum wage, senior citizens and recent college graduates are also included and they deserve representation too.
Trieger said that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “we’ve heard about health care workers, teachers, and daycare providers and guess who serves all those folks, you do.”
Expressions of support were echoed by a local teamster, the SEIU, City Council Member Claire Syrett, and Eugene’s Mayor, Lucy Vinis, along with other local politicians and congressional candidates.
Mel Keller, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation board president, spoke to the crowd following chants led by Douglas that said “what do we do when workers are attacked, stand up and fight back.”
Keller told the baristas that “we stand with Starbucks as they are changing their workplace for the better and for their workers.”
One Starbucks employee shared their reasons for wanting to join a union explaining that, while “higher ups are trying to union bust,” Starbucks employees are “struggling to pay rent and our voices need to be heard.”
Towards the end of the rally, one employee stood up to tell the crowd that the day’s event wasn’t a campaign stop. “Politicians do not represent the working people.” The employee encouraged the crowd to not forget what today is about. This is not a campaign stunt. “This is about people’s lives.”
On Jan. 28, a hearing by the NLRB will determine if the baristas will get a chance to vote to join a union.